Grad School Life

Our new kitchen! (aka Slow Carb Snacktime headquarters)
Our new kitchen! (aka Slow Carb Snacktime headquarters)

Am I the worst? I’m kind of the worst. It’s been almost two months since I’ve last posted, but between the new house, starting grad school, and heading back to Philly for two weeks, it’s been pretty crazy around here! In addition to the insanity of life, if you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that we just got our (absolutely amazing) new refrigerator this past week – yup, we spent the first six weeks living out of a mini fridge… hence, no new recipes (there was no room!)

Don’t worry though, I’m back now! I’ve got a bunch of new recipes in the works (slow carb, keto, and even cheat day), plus a few new guest posts to keep things interesting, and my first academic paper to share!

Hopefully this will keep you guys busy until I get my new dishes in order:

This is my first academic research paper for my graduate program and I am so excited that I was able to write about a topic I am already so passionate about. It’s definitely fueled the fire to keep me on track with my personal health and fitness journey and I’m really looking forward to continuing my research on the subject of diet and chronic illness -

Cause and Effect – An examination of diet and its role in chronic illness

Guest Post: Deadlifts & Discoveries

As some of you already know, The Boyfriend and I are moving this weekend, which means my kitchen(s) will be in shambles for the next few days and new recipes will be on hold. Thankfully, my lovely friend Molly, creator and author of Deadlifts & Discoveries, is here to save the day and keep you guys busy until I have something new to share. Until then, Happy 4th of July! Have a fantastic weekend, please be safe, please drink responsibly, and please please PLEASE DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.

So lately I’ve had great success from tracking my food intake and keeping an eye on my macros. While I have no issues experimenting with my own body, I’m grateful to have someone else with a bit more experience to share her story and fill in the blanks.

I absolutely love Molly’s approach, even though it’s not 100% slow carb. Personally, I try to eat between 80-90% of my TDEE and aim for 1g of protein and 0.5g of fat per pound of bodyweight, you already know I’m shooting for as little sugar as possible, but I understand that isn’t the case for everyone and I’m not here to tell you what you’re doing is wrong (unless it’s really really wrong). Even though it’s not slow carb, I think it’s good to understand all facets of fitness and nutrition so you can make an educated decision. Let’s see what Molly has to say about that.


From Ms. Deadlifts & Discoveries herself:

“Hello from the Right Coast! Our lovely blogess here has asked me to do a guest post about calculating and tracking macros and calories for performance, for aesthetics, for whatever you like. I am not a registered, licensed, certified, professional, expert anything; just a girl with a passion for health and lifting, and a compulsive reading habit. I come from a very disordered eating background, but I did learn how to weigh, approximate, and track food early on. Not healthfully, but at least I was accurate.

I meticulously track everything I eat. Rather than punishing myself harshly anytime I went over my goal of zero calories (you read that right. I aimed for literally no food every single day from the age of 14 to 20), now I track to ensure that I’m getting the most out of every last one of the many calories I put in my body and making sure it’s enough to allow me to squat more than my bodyweight for reps, run a 5k, climb trees, haul 500lbs of bricks, summit a mountain with a full pack. I’m a 5’3″, 119lb girl and I eat more than the average adult male, and I lose fat and inches doing it. I attribute my high caloric needs solely to heavy lifting, as muscle burns calories just by existing. More muscle means more food. More food means I’m less likely to smother my boyfriend with a pillow when he starts snoring. Not to mention that I look and feel the best I ever have in my life, and a million times better than my 108lb high school foolishness.

Calculating and detailing my training and diet is one of my favorite pastimes, no joke. I’m a total data junkie, and love to analyze, compare, contrast, make graphs, note trends, integrate other data, and organize things.

All that said, I’m not incredibly obsessive about it. Nor do I need to be. I figure life is hard enough, why stress about it if 10g of carbs come from pretzels in hot sauce and not a sweet potato sometimes? Why freak out if my macro ratio ends up at 42% fats and not 45%? “Close enough” keeps me sane, as long as it truly is close enough. It’s a balance, a tightrope walk, to find that line between being effective and not driving yourself nuts.

So let’s get down to the part you care about. Macronutrients are basically what food is made of. They consist of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. I could get into how there’s 4 calories per gram of protein, 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, and 9 calories per gram of fat, but truthfully, that’s too technical for me. To me, ice cream and vodka are macros too (actually, alcohol sugars are technically a macro, but that’s another post entirely) and I budget them into my caloric bills.

If I were to apply the trendy terms to how I feed my body, I would be a primal intermittent fasting clean eater following 85/15 IIFYM HFLCish. What. In layman’s terms, I’m too lazy to get up to make breakfast, so I just have liquids until about 7pm (coffee, water, BCAAs for training, protein shake). I eat what I like, which is mostly meat, dairy, fresh produce, and nuts. Yup. I actually like foods as close to their natural state as possible. I focus on getting protein up early, followed by fats. Around midnight, I’ll have a few hundred calories left, so I’ll indulge in whatever I want, in the healthiest way I can. Usually. Sometimes it’s nachos (local organic grass-fed cheese, homemade salsa, beans, some kind of leafy green, some meat, organic hot sauce, avocado on regular tortilla chips), sometimes it’s a half pint of Ben & Jerry’s, sometimes it’s a PB&J on Ezekiel bread. This is what works for me. It won’t work for everyone, mentally or physically. The details of my diet aren’t particularly important, other than to illustrate that you don’t need to eat a bodybuilding contest prep diet of tilapia, chicken breast, and broccoli day in and day out, nor do you need to 1200 calories a day to get a fit body.

I’ve developed my own little nuances and found some tweaks that suited me better over the years, but Calorie Tracking 101 is pretty simple and all encompassing.

First, determine your caloric needs. There’s a million ways to do this; I prefer to use a combination of several online calculators, and two additional formulas specifically for athletes, then average them out to get a general idea (google “TDEE calculator”, try out a few and see what you get; I use the IIFYM and Scooby’s Workshop calculators primarily. Try them at the lowest activity option in the list as well as what you would estimate your level to be and average those four numbers and set the goal as maintenance where applicable. That number is the calories you burn in your everyday life, walking, eating, digesting, breathing, pooping, exercising, dancing while brushing your teeth, etc. If you eat that number for a few weeks, you’ll see how your body responds. If you gain weight, it’s too much. Lose weight, it’s too little. Adjust that number according to your goals: If you want to get big and strong, you’ll need to eat more than that number (350 calories more per day is the general starting point). If you want to lose fat, you’ll need to eat less (again, about 350 is a pretty good starting place). Note: don’t even think about “eating back calories burned”. You’ll only confuse yourself and end up back where you started. Keep it simple.

Next is macros. Again, a million ways to calculate this. Some people say 0.8g protein per kilogram of body weight, some say 2g per pound of bodyweight, some say you’ll have a heart attack if you go over 35g of fat… it’s pretty personal. Fats are a bit more important for women, especially those seeking low body fat, as they directly control hormonal response. I eat a minimum of 100g of fat per day and my recent bloodwork came back “perfect”. My LDL is lower than my HDL by a few points. My blood pressure is stable and “very acceptable,” according to my doctor. Fats aren’t the enemy. Protein is the necessary building block for muscle. If you’re trying to get big and strong, that’s what you need. If you’re trying to cut body fat while preserving muscle, you’ll want a lot of that. Carbohydrates provide energy. If you’re a runner, or a nurse on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to carb up. It’s a very personal ratio. If you have no idea where to start, try for a 33/33/33% split and play with it. Remember that it does take time to see changes, so be sure to stick with each variation for at least 3 weeks or so.

Once you’ve gotten the numbers you need, then you need to put them to work. I use the free app MyFitnessPal. While not dead accurate, it’s again, close enough. Note: the preset “goals” in the app are absolute BS; take the time to put in your own calorie/macro goals. Some people prefer pen and paper, or a different app. Whatever allows you to look at hard data. For the first few months, it’s easiest to slightly inconvenience yourself and weigh everything you eat. You’ll soon be able to estimate pretty accurately how much of a certain food is present, and about how many calories it is. But in the beginning, be as anal as you possibly can about it without driving yourself bonkers. Be honest about what you’ve eaten, don’t lie to the app and expect results, and accept that you’ll see red “you messed this up” notifications sometimes.

That’s it. Calculate, log, progress. Over time, you’ll learn to eat almost intuitively, realize your problem areas, and find alternative solutions. Experiment. You won’t do irreversible damage. What worked for that IFBB pro on Instagram won’t necessarily work for you, and what works for you won’t necessarily work for me. Be patient, but be honest and critical of your progress. You’ll learn what your body wants and needs, and when you should differentiate between the two.”

Here's my proof. January 21, 2014 to today, one picture per month. In the first three, I weighed about 120lbs and was eating about 1700 calories a day. Somewhere shortly after the third picture, I bumped them up to 2200 and got very skinny very fast. In the fourth picture, I weighed 127lbs and was "dirty bulking" at 3000 calories a day! Picture number 5 is two weeks into a cut at 2200 again, and the last picture is today, at 119lbs and 2100 calories a day. My weight is almost identical in the first and last pictures, but what a difference!

Here’s my proof. January 21, 2014 to today, one picture per month. In the first three, I weighed about 120lbs and was eating about 1700 calories a day. Somewhere shortly after the third picture, I bumped them up to 2200 and got very skinny very fast. In the fourth picture, I weighed 127lbs and was “dirty bulking” at 3000 calories a day! Picture number 5 is two weeks into a cut at 2200 again, and the last picture is today, at 119lbs and 2100 calories a day. My weight is almost identical in the first and last pictures, but what a difference!

Cold Brew Coffee


I’m not sure where you’re reading this from, but it’s about as hot as the seventh layer of hell in Oregon right now and the last thing I want on a 97* day is hot coffee. Surviving without coffee however, is hardly an option. The choices here are limited: my beloved Stumptown Cold Brew is close to $4 a pop, Starbucks isn’t much cheaper (and I don’t have a car yet), and day-old coffee out of the refrigerator is… meh. So what’s a caffeine-deprived girl to do!? Set up some homemade cold brew.

I’m not usually one to go into all the cheesy descriptive words with my food, but there is something so satisfying about cold brew coffee that your regular iced coffee just doesn’t quite hit. It’s concentrated, but not bitter, and has the creamy sweetness you might find in a really high quality piece of dark chocolate. Drink slowly and appreciate every sip, ’cause that mouthfeel is addicting! Thankfully, this is super easy to make.

You will need: 
1 large glass bowl
1 large glass pitcher
1 fine mesh strainer (small)
plastic wrap
soup ladle (small)

8-9 ounces ground coffee (by weight, not volume)
7 cups cold water

To a large glass bowl, add eight ounces ground coffee of your choice (use nine ounces if you like, but it’s a little too bitter for me) – I’m using Trader Joe’s Peaberry. Cover with seven cups cold water and stir until all grounds are soaked. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a shaded area at room temperature for 12 up to 24 hours – I usually let it go for the whole 24.


Set up a pitcher with a fine mesh strainer over the opening, you can use a coffee filter in addition to the strainer if you have the patience, but I do not. Using a small ladle, scoop the coffee concentrate into the pitcher through the strainer until you can no longer press any liquid out of the grounds.

Cover with lid and refrigerate for up to one week.

Serve with unsweetened vanilla almond milk or dairy-substitute of choice. Remember that this is a coffee concentrate so you do need to break it up with something else, luckily this means that ice cubes will smooth out your beverage rather than watering it down.


Conflict-Free Wings


With flavors stemming from North Africa and the Middle East, I wanted to bring all these herbs and spices together without stirring up any trouble so for the sake of enjoying a good meal, any debate on the origin of flavors or other political discussions end here.

Somewhat inspired by the za’atar skillet bread The Boyfriend and I were fortunate enough to try at Willi’s Wine Bar on our recent trip to California, the marinade for these wings comes together very quickly and is practically impossible to stop licking off your fingers (before you touch the raw chicken of course).

You Will Need: 
1 large baking sheet
1 cutting board
1 large bowl
1 medium bowl or large ziplock bag
1 small bowl
1 very sharp knife or cleaver
1 rubber spatula
1 pair boning tweezers or equivalent

2 lbs whole bone-in chicken wings (about 10 wings)
5 tbsp high-quality olive or avocado oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or cubes
2 tsp lemon juice

2 heaping tbsp za’atar
2 heaping tsp harissa
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt

Place the wings in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine all herbs and seasoning with 2 tsp lemon juice and 5 tbsp oil. Using a fork, stir until mixture resembles a paste. Set aside.

Cutting board: Using boning tweezers or equivalent, remove any feathers left behind on the wings. Split each wing from the drumstick at the joint with a very sharp knife or cleaver. Add split wings to a clean bowl.

Making this recipe a few times is actually what inspired me to pick up this little thing

Making this recipe a few times is actually what inspired me to pick up this little thing

Using a rubber spatula, toss wings with marinade-paste until all wings are coated. Transfer to ziplock bag or cover bowl with foil, refrigerate for at least four hours.

Remove wings from refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking, this ensures the meat will cook evenly.

Pre-heat oven to 410*F and cover baking sheet with foil.

Arrange wings on baking sheet skin side up and bake for 20 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, turn the wings so they are facing skin side down and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Set oven to broil, flip wings one last time so they are skin side up, and broil for 3-5 minutes to get the skin nice and crispy.

Serve immediately.


Homegrown Summer Ghee


I’m sure by now you have heard plenty about clarified butter. No? Let me explain, ’cause it’s pretty wonderful. Clarified butter, also known as ghee, is made by separating milk solids from butterfat and removing them. This Yahoo article sums it up quite nicely: “A staple of Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cuisine, ghee is made by heating butter until the milk solids are separated and then removed, meaning it’s not dairy, just fat—mostly saturated—which is essential to brain health, muscle recovery, and immunity.” … “It’s ideal for cooking at high heat (less prone than olive oil to go rancid when crisping or frying). And, with a rich, nutty flavor, it’s delicious on everything from lobster to Brussels sprouts.”

Now that you know the truth, it’s easy to see why the dairy-free product has become so popular with slow carb and paleo eaters. The best part is… it’s ridiculously easy to make. I’ve made clarified butter before, it really is quite simple, but I tried a few new things this time and it’s pretty damn hard not to eat this batch straight off a spoon!


Putting my little garden to work! Fresh homegrown basil.

1 large pot
1 fine mesh strainer (small)
1-2 ice cube trays
1 sealable container (preferably glass)
Measuring Teaspoon
Measuring cup or small pitcher
Large bowl or pitcher with pouring spout

~ 1 lb grass-fed butter, unsalted
4 oz fresh basil (bonus points if it’s homegrown!!)

Cut butter into chunks and add to a clean pot. Over medium-low heat, melt butter until completely liquefied, stirring often to prevent burning. While the butter is melting, rinse basil with cold water. Gently pat/roll dry with a paper towel and remove all leaves from the stems – I do this by lightly pinching the base of the leaf between my thumb and forefinger and it just pops right off; discard the stems.

Lay the leaves out and pat both sides dry again. Using your hands, tear the basil into small pieces – small enough to fit several into each individual ice cube mold (but don’t throw them in yet).

Once the butter has melted completely, remove it from the heat. Set up your strainer or a piece of cheesecloth over a large bowl or pitcher and pour the liquid through – this is the first step in separating the milk solids from the butterfat.

Now, set the strainer over a measuring cup and pour butter through again – you don’t actually need to measure anything here, I just found my measuring cup to be the best shape for the steps that follow.

At this point, you should see the butter start to separate – the milk solids will sink to the bottom while the butterfat will float to the top. Using a measuring teaspoon, layer a small amount of the butterfat only into the bottom of each ice cube mold. On top of this base layer, place a small piece of basil. Cover with butter and repeat the butter-basil layering process until all the cubes are full – I think I got 8-10 pieces of basil in each one, possibly more. Remember to only use the butterfat for this, the idea is to keep it separate from the milk solids!


So I used an entire pound of butter for this and ran out of ice cube trays. If you encounter the same problem, you can repeat the layering process on a larger scale in any container with a lid, but glass is preferable. Remember to put a layer of the butterfat in first so the basil doesn’t stick to the container.

Place ice cube trays in the refrigerator until the ghee solidifies – at least 12 hours. You can toss them into the freezer just like that, or if you are lazy like me, bang them all out at once and store them in the freezer in a ziplock bag for easy access later on.


I’ve already used these little ghee cubes a few times and they paired wonderfully with my Saturday Morning Shakshuka and my Thai-ish Spicy Peanut Chicken.

Rosemary Bone Broth


I have written, deleted, and re-written this post like 10 times now. There is just so much information about the endless benefits of drinking bone broth, I’m kicking myself for not trying it earlier. It’s delicious, it’s super easy, and it’s really really good for you – what more do you need? Just ask your butcher for a few pounds of beef soup bones – femurs or knuckles – and get cookin!

No, but seriously – the list of health benefits is astounding. Bone broth is packed with nutrients and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium as well as amino acids like glycine and proline which promote a healthy gut, and aid in digestion, growth, even muscle repair. I could write about all the good stuff in bone broth for ages, but let’s just get to how you can make it at home and then you can see all the benefits for yourself!

Special Equipment/Appliances: 
Large slow cooker/crock pot
Fine mesh strainer
Cheese cloth (optional but recommended)
Mason jar or other glass container(s), for storage

3-4 lbs beef soup/marrow bones (femur or knuckle)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
~ 4 L cold water (about 16 cups)


Add marrow bones to slow cooker. Cover with water by at least 3″ – this took about 3.5L (~14 cups) for my 5 quart crockpot. Add 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 3 large sprigs fresh rosemary (the rosemary will be removed after the first 12 hours, so if you are using dried herbs or smaller pieces, I recommend placing them in a spice bag or using a string to tie them). Note: Do not, I repeat DO NOT, add salt. As the broth reduces, the salt will likely become too concentrated and will ruin you broth – it is best to add other herbs and seasoning later, in individual portions, when serving.

Set on low for 36-48 hours.

After the first 12 hours, remove the rosemary. Left in for longer, it will become bitter and start to disintegrate.

After 24 hours, add back some of the water that has evaporated. You still want to keep the water line about 3″ over the top of the bones.

The longer you let it simmer, the better it will be, but I am impatient and only managed 42 hours before I had to have it!

Line your mesh strainer with a thin piece of cheesecloth (one or two layers) and place it over a large bowl or mason jar. My strainer is quite large so I had to do this over a bowl and then pour it into the mason jars for storage.

Using a large ladle, run the bone broth through the strainer and cheesecloth – this ensures there will be no muck or bone fragments in your pretty broth! If you used a separate bowl like I did, carefully transfer your broth into your storage containers (I used large 1/2 gallon and quart mason jars). If you have a smaller strainer, you can place this over the top of your mason jar to strain it one final time – not necessary, but certainly won’t hurt.

Leave uncovered on the counter to cool. As the fat comes to the top and solidifies, you can remove it with a spoon if so compelled, but it will render back down when microwaved so feel free to leave it in if you like it! Store in the fridge for up to one week.

Just be mindful, when you take it out of the fridge, it will act and look like jello. You made cow jello, and it is amazing!

To serve, season with salt and pepper and microwave about two minutes per mug. This would also make a great base for French onion soup, but we quite like it as is.


Chronic Pain: That Thing That I Have


I’m sure by now at least a few of you have read my About Me, which gets the point across but isn’t really the whole story. I recently took the time and energy to write it all down: my adventures with past injuries, diagnosing fibromyalgia, how I got to where I am now, etc. I’ve finally decided to share this ordeal with you, because if sharing everything I’ve been through, if sharing my struggle and progress can help even one person, then it was absolutely worth taking the time to get all the information out there. I originally posted this in a forum for chronic pain, so some of the information will probably be familiar to you, but it took a lot for me to get it all out there and I think it’s important to share here too.

Please be considerate, this is a really personal story for me (obviously), so in this one instance: if you don’t have anything nice to say please keep your mouth shut.


I have made a lot of changes in my life over the last 1-2 years and I feel my quality of life has improved significantly. I thought maybe if I shared my story, if I could help just one person, it would be worth revisiting the bad memories and the amount of time it will take to get this all written down. I’m sorry if I sound conceited, it’s not at all my intent, but I spent years hating life and suffering every day and I don’t think anyone deserves to go through that.

For starters, I’m a 25 year old female. I’m 5’4″ (5’5″ on a good day), 180lbs, and approximately 30% body fat. These numbers will be important later.

My apologies in advance, this is going to be super long. If you don’t care about the back story, I’ll make sure to put a line when I get to the “good stuff” so you can skip ahead.

I have always been pretty clumsy. As a kid, I sucked at sports, I hurt myself all the time, and even in 2nd grade, “pulling a muscle” would leave me limping for days. This was all explained away by saying I am simply not athletic, or worse – lazy. Ooh how that word infuriates me to this day.

Anyway, like I said, pretty clumsy. I didn’t have any major incidents until I was about 14, but in the course of just a few years, the injuries I sustained were staggering. I slipped on ice and split my chin open, eight stitches – that was the first incident. After that, I sprained both ankles multiple times, eventually resulting in a hairline fracture and a big blue cast just in time for the big school dance. I earned broken ribs, cracked cartilage that connects my sternum to my ribcage, and a torn ligament in my wrist all from snowboarding (clearly I wasn’t very good, but I loved it). The torn ligament was ignored as a sprain for over a year, eventually my mom demanded an MRI and the truth was revealed – I had two surgeries (one to repair and insert pins, the other to remove said pins) and eight stitches – two each in four different places, I call them my shark bites.

My health problems just piled on after this. Stomach ulcers, the propensity for my large intestine to occasionally shut down simultaneously causing diarrhea and constipation, more ankle sprains, and the tendency to throw up if my heart rate was too elevated (basically every time I had to walk across the street and up to the third floor for French class in 11th and 12th grade). I did go to the school gym after classes a few times a week, but it was more of a social thing and I didn’t really do any serious strength training or cardio for fear of injury/vomiting. Oh, and I have asthma too. And anxiety. And ADHD.

This crap continued, but without major incident until 2010. Shortly after turning 22, I was in physical therapy yet again. This time it was just as a general precaution, to strengthen my feet and ankles once and for all so I would stop injuring myself. This was the most physically challenging experience of my life to this point, but the progress I made was rewarding. One particular day in November, I was doing one of my scheduled exercises – a modified plank – and something just felt all wrong. I hurt my back. I hurt my back to the extent that my usual 11-minute walk home took me about 45 minutes, most of which involved snotty gross crying (you know the kind I mean). By the time I got home I was practically screaming. Ibuprofen did nothing, Aleve did nothing, after several hours I could barely move. My aunt is a dentist and called in an emergency Vicodin prescription for me. It was enough to knock me out, but did nothing for the pain.

After this incident, I was in pain constantly and everywhere. Everything hurt. If I bumped in to something it hurt for minutes, not seconds. Any minor discomfort became a huge ordeal. A half hour of beginner’s yoga left me bedridden for days – this was the final straw for my mom and for me, and so began the doctor’s appointments. My back injury was diagnosed as a lower lumbar sprain, but it didn’t explain away everything or anything else I was going through.

In the course of six months, I was seen by 3 primary care physicians, 2 rheumatologists, and a neuromuscular specialist at Jefferson (if you’re near Philadelphia, shoot me an e-mail if you’d like his info). This guy knew what was up. Despite the 2+ hours I spent in the waiting room for every appointment, he took care of business. Hour long interviews with my mom and me, family histories, endless blood work and tests, genetic testing, and that godforsaken fucking EMG. Sorry for the language, but if you’ve never had one, that electromyogram is still one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. He ruled out everything possible. The only weird stuff in my blood were my CK levels – creatine kinase, more than triple the normal range. The neuromuscular doctor concluded that my back injury set off my syndrome once and for all. At this point, early-mid 2011, he diagnosed me with fibromyalgia and prescribed medication #1: Lyrica. Now that I know I have fibromyalgia, looking back on my childhood is confusing. It sucks because maybe I could have lived a more normal life if I’d somehow figured it out sooner. On the other hand, I got the validation I’d needed. I wasn’t “just not athletic,” and I definitely wasn’t lazy, there was something seriously wrong and it wasn’t my fault.

Eventually I found an absolutely wonderful primary care doctor who I still miss dearly (she left the practice and then I moved across the country). She called me out on my shit (smoking, drinking, generally being an asshole like the college kid I was), but took my symptoms seriously. She even correctly diagnosed a gallstone after I described back pain in a particular location so severe that it made me throw up. She checked my CK’s often, though never figured out the correlation to my pain, just that they were insanely elevated.

When I went to the hospital for a routine ultrasound to check out the gallstone, January 2012, I was hospitalized almost immediately for a pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart). After further investigation, there was no fluid around my heart, but they discovered that (a) I had pneumonia, and (b) my CK levels were nearly 14,000 (note that the normal range is between 36-234). I was kept overnight for IV antibiotics and that was pretty much it for the pneumonia, but at this point we had a new issue: Lyrica was making me fucking insane. I was depressed, suicidal, moody, manic, just all sorts of crazy. It wasn’t helping with the pain either. My blood pressure was high, I had headaches for days, and I was a miserable dickhead.

Okay, this is getting seriously out of control long and I apologize. I’m going to skip around a little bit now because I’m actually running out of space. The point is, for the first time in my adult life (21+), I am not in pain. Okay, well I am in pain, but I’m not in the kind of pain that interferes with my life every second of every day anymore. So how did I get there/here? Let’s walk through it.

Shortly after calling it quits with Lyrica, I was prescribed a new meds routine that I pretty much still follow now.

  • Baseline, daily: Tramadol 50mg, 1-3x daily (as of late 2012, I only take it once/day unless more is actually needed)
  • “Level 2,” when Tramadol just isn’t cutting it: Diclofenac Potassium 50mg
  • “Level 3,” when shit just got serious: Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprine) 10mg, before bed

If none of the above provide relief, it’s time for a trip to the emergency room for a Toradol injection. My last ER visit was on 06 June 2012.

A little later that summer (2012), I started seeing a guy – we are still together, and about six months ago moved from Philly to Portland, OR together. If all goes well, we’ll be buying a house this summer. (Readers, I am of course referring to The Boyfriend).

When I started dating my now-boyfriend, he was very into crossfit after struggling with his weight most of his life and was not taking any nonsense from me with my smoking, drinking, eating habits, and complete lack of exercise. I mean, why the hell would I make myself exercise when I knew that I’d likely be unable to even dress myself without excruciating pain for days afterwards? Who in their right mind would force physical activity on themselves under those conditions? This was deemed an acceptable answer for the time being, but my diet was not.

Throughout the course of my teenage and adult life, I’ve tried damn near every diet under the sun, most recently Weight Watchers. Nothing worked and I was miserable. (I didn’t really stuggle with my weight until I hit about 20yo, there is more info about that part of my life on the About Me section of my blog.

Even after my neuromuscular doc told me changing my diet was imperative to my well-being, it was just too hard and I had no willpower. When he told me the previous year that I should cut gluten out of my diet, I straight up laughed in his face.

My boyfriend introduced me to the slow carb diet, his lifestyle of choice, as described in the book The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. It’s a pretty wonderful book, I definitely drank the kool-aid, and it’s absolutely worth reading, I learned so many things about my health and my body from that book. So here is a basic rundown of the food aspect of my new lifestyle. Holy hell it sounded so scary and hard, and it really was at first. Sugar is truly a drug and the more you eat it, the more you crave it. I literally felt like I was going through narcotic withdrawal for the first few weeks. I was exhausted and cranky and had no energy, I’m sure I was a real pleasure to be around, but my boyfriend pushed me through it.

I remember the first day I woke up without back pain. Not that it was completely gone, but every single morning since that little oopsises in 2010, I have woken up with back pain that took me 7-10 minutes to process before I could even open my eyes. One day, about six weeks after I started eating according to the slow carb diet, I woke up and I actually felt GOOD. I had energy, I had a smile on my face, and I could fucking MOVE. Many studies have shown that gluten can cause and even exacerbate muscle inflammation and lethargy, two things people with chronic pain and fatigue know very well. For all my fighting, for all my resistance to doctor’s orders, it absolutely worked. Cutting sugar and gluten out of my diet was about 75% of the answer I was looking for.

On 01 December 2012, with the help of The Boyfriend (and Tim Ferriss), I quit smoking. If you or someone you know is trying to quit smoking, you can read about my adventures with quitting here. (I wrote that post as a celebration of reaching 500 days nicotine-free, as of today, I have reached 550 days!)

So that March (2013) I started a new job – I had just graduated from college in February. My new job was about eight blocks from my apartment, just under a mile. I took the bus there and back every single day for weeks. On the first truly warm day of 2013, I popped a Tramadol and I walked the eight blocks home. It took me nearly 35 minutes. It’d been over two years since I had put any real thought into physical activity and oh goodness I was fat and out of shape. I almost cried on that walk, but I made it home. I made it home and then I did it again the next day. By the time I lost my job in July (it’s okay, I was going to quit anyway), I was walking home in 17 minutes. I HALVED my time in three months. I know for most of the world that really isn’t very impressive, but guys, I know you get it. I was over the moon the first time I walked home in less than 20 minutes and I decided I really needed to get a grip on my health. I’d been following the slow carb diet for almost six months at this point, my baseline level of pain was at the lowest it had been ever and it wasn’t going to keep getting better without my effort.

I started really slow, like really really slow. There is an exercise called “high knees” where you essentially run in place, lifting your leg up high so your knee comes to about chest level. This was the first exercise I did at home. I did them slowly, one at a time, for a total of 20 (10 on each side). It was AWFUL. Within the hour, it hurt to move my legs. I sat on the floor and cried. I took my Flexeril and I went to bed. I was in pain for two full days, and finally regained full mobility (or at least my understanding of full mobility) on the third day. When I got home from work, I did high knees again. This time I did 11 on each side, and it sucked, but it didn’t knock me on my ass like it did the first time. I very slowly started adding in more exercises, focusing exclusively on bodyweight movements. Bodyweight movements are really great because you can do them practically anywhere, with no equipment, and in very little time. When I was at work, I would do wall sits in the bathroom. I did leg lifts at my desk, or little games: my favorite was lowering my chair as much as I could without interrupting my work, and trying to see how long I could keep my feet off the floor. It was really hard! But I was getting stronger and it felt AMAZING.

I started building up my confidence, about as slow as I was building muscle, but it was working. I started doing wall push-ups (standing up against a wall), and jumping jacks, even the occasional plank. The first time I did bodyweight squats, I think I did 3 before I practically fell over and I know my form was terrible, but I kept doing it. I didn’t push myself crazy hard, I tried to do as much as I could without causing myself extreme pain – not always successful, but I tried. Less than 10 minutes/day, maybe three days/week. I actually wrote up a little thing about bodyweight movements in r/loseit a few months ago, you can check it out here:

I kept working on my bodyweight movements and slowly getting stronger, but it’s not enough to just do that forever. This year, this year I got brave. When the boyfriend and I moved to Oregon, we finally had a garage. For a couple of reasons, he left the crossfit world, but was still a big fan of weightlifting and built us an 8’x8′ weightlifting platform in the garage. This is not a typo, so prepare for this news: I started WEIGHTLIFTING. Me, the chubby sick girl with the invisible illness. I started in mid January. Weightlifting barbells come in two sizes – 7′ long and 45 pounds, or 6′ long and 30-35 lbs. My boyfriend has the bigger barbell, the standard for Olympic lifts and powerlifting. It felt SO heavy, just standing with it on my shoulders was hard. To teach me how to move with the barbell, my boyfriend bought an empty PVC pipe, 7′ long. It probably weighed like 3lbs, but that’s what I started with. He showed me how to do back squats and front squats with the barbell, and a few other lifts. After a few weeks, he filled up the PVC pipe with sand and sealed the ends bringing the weight up to about 10 lbs. For Valentine’s Day, the boyfriend surprised me with my own barbell – a women’s barbell, 6′ long and 30 lbs. It was perfect. The weight no longer felt terrifyingly heavy either. Following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, a very slow progression program that focuses on proper form and slow gains, I began to make progress. Before you can lift 40 pounds, you have to lift 20 pounds, and the biggest problem with weightlifting is when people get their egos involved. Fortunately I know my limits, and am still kind of a wuss about things because of my history, so keeping ego out of the situation isn’t too difficult. On 23 May 2014, I did squats with 34kg – that’s just about 75 lbs. SEVENTY FIVE POUNDS. And the best part? I didn’t want to die afterwards.

When I started weightlifting in January, I weighed 190 lbs and was 36% body fat. That’s 75 pounds of fat. This week I weighed in at 179 lbs, my first time under 180 lbs in at least three years, and I am now down to 30% body fat. That means that while I “only lost” 11 pounds, I have lost over 15 pounds of body fat. I GAINED 5_ pounds of MUSCLE. I HAVE MUSCLE! You can too.

It was insanely hard to get to this point, and it’s going to take a lot of energy to keep it going, but I am so much happier and healthier. I am the healthiest and happiest that I have ever been in my life. I live a relatively normal life. Do I still have pain? Absolutely. But my quality of life isn’t even comparable to the hell I lived every day for years. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I’d rather be in pain because I’m working on improving my life than because I’m scared of temporarily feeling more pain. I hope some of this information was helpful or useful to at least one of you, I hope this can inspire at least one person to make a change in their life. Please comment or shoot me an e-mail (, I will answer any and all questions I can or whatever else you want to talk about.

Fibromyalgia and chronic pain used to be part of who I was. It was my whole identity. Now… chronic pain is just a thing that I have. Fibromyalgia is just a thing that I have. IT IS NOT WHO I AM.

There is no short cut for getting healthy.

Note: I failed to mention, I also take a Vitamin D supplement. This started after our move to the Pacific NW as a response to all the winter rain, but I started feeling even better. A study was recently published that showed those with fibromyalgia pain often have lower vitamin D levels as well and that a supplement can help combat some of the pain.